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Dietribes: Vim and Vinegar

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• Vinegar is, essentially, fermented fruit, though it can be made from anything containing sugar. "Typical retail varieties of vinegar include white distilled, cider, wine (white and red), rice, balsamic, malt and sugar cane. Other, more specialized types include banana, pineapple, raspberry, flavored and seasoned (e.g., garlic, tarragon)."

• "I can pickle that!" you say. Well, not so fast: "If you attempt to make vinegar at home, we are sure you’ll develop an appreciation for the difficulty of this ancient art and science. Be careful. While homemade vinegar can be good for dressing salads and general purpose usage, its acidity may not be adequate for safe use in pickling and canning. Unless you are certain the acidity is at least four percent, don’t pickle or can with it."

• Recently my mother mentioned "Mother" in vinegar, which is actually a cellulose produced by the vinegar bacteria itself. Pasteurization usually gets rid of this stringy substance, though its presence doesn't mean that the vinegar is spoiled.

• Vinegar has a variety of non-food uses, such as a cleaner (one of my favorites, actually) and as a weed killer.

• A 1950s haircare guide suggests rinsing hair in a vinegar solution to truly get rid of old product (and it works!)

• Vinegar can dissolve pearls. Pliny the Elder wrote that Cleopatra made a bet with her lover -- the Roman leader Marc Antony -- that she could spend 10 million sesterces on one meal. She dropped a pearl earring in a vessel of vinegar, and when it dissolved allegedly drank it. (Cleopatra, the original 1%).

• We are all familiar with what happens when you combine vinegar and baking soda - a volcano! (and in this case, the world's largest!)

• Though I am not a fan of vinegar and avoid it (unless cleaning!) there are some strange ways to consume the stuff out there, such as Lemon Vinegar Kit Kats as well as Vinegar cocktails!

• The idea for this Dietribe came from reading a great article I linked to this weekend about vinegar's relation to the Victorian fainting couch. Furthermore, it seems that ladies of the time would dabble it into jeweled containers to make their progression through the smelly streets of town more pleasant.

• Not all vinegar was seen as pleasant, though. According to the New York Times, "No immigrant food was more reviled than the garlicky, vinegary pickle. Pungent beyond all civilized standards, toxic to both the stomach and the psyche, the pickle was seen as morally suspect. As Dr. Susanna Way Dodds wrote in the late 19th century, “the spices in it are bad, the vinegar is a seething mass of rottenness ... and the poor little innocent cucumber ... if it had very little ‘character’ in the beginning, must now fall into the ranks of the ‘totally depraved.’ ”

• For those who do enjoy it, it seems that vinegar sales are somewhat seasonal, with a peak in the summer months and a secondary peak in April most likely due to the Easter holiday and the use of vinegar in dying Easter eggs. Vinegar can also make for rubber eggs, plastic milk and a rubber chicken bone (it's science gone mad!)

• And if you really really really love vinegar, you can always visit the International Vinegar Museum.

• What do you put vinegar on, Flossers? And what is your favorite kind? I can't stand the smell or taste of it, but I can report that it does help calm an upset stomach!

Hungry for more? Venture into the Dietribes archive.

‘Dietribes’ appears every other Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.

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University of Pittsburgh
Researchers Create Motorized Wheelchair Made for the Water Park
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University of Pittsburgh

Despite advances in technology, there are many aspects of the world that remain inaccessible to people with disabilities. But researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are working to make one activity easier for people who use motorized wheelchairs: navigating water parks.

The average motorized wheelchair has a number of electrical and battery components that can’t get wet, limiting who can access the joys of splash parks and pools. But a new wheelchair that uses compressed air instead of a heavy battery could change that, Gizmodo recently reported.

Created through a joint research project between University of Pittsburgh engineers, the university’s medical center, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the PneuChair is lighter and quicker to charge than traditional motorized chairs. It can also be repaired with basic hardware tools if something breaks in the midst of all the splashing.

The 80-pound chair (a traditional device can weigh up to 400 pounds) can travel about three miles on one charge, about a third of the maximum distance of an electric mobility device. Another benefit: It only takes 10 minutes to recharge rather than eight hours.

The university's Human Engineering Research Laboratories is also working on a scooter version for people who don't need the assistance of a full chair. “The potential to open opportunities for people with disabilities who need powered mobility to access splash parks, water parks, beaches or pools is transformative,” lab director Rory Cooper told the university's press service.

The PneuChair was designed in part for use at Morgan’s Inspiration Island, an upcoming water park in San Antonio that’s designed for people with disabilities. The accessible splash park—which is part of Morgan’s Wonderland, a fully accessible theme park—will initially offer 10 of the chairs to its guests for use while they’re there.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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Dietribes: Cabbage
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• Cabbages are derived from the wild mustard plant of the Mediterranean region, and have been popular since ancient times. Cato the Elder praised the cabbage for its many medicinal uses.

• Cabbages are highly nutritious, containing large amounts of Vitamin C, folate and fiber. That and its low calorie count is why some people use cabbage on weight-loss diets.

• However, the cabbage is also known to have a certain undesirable gastric side effect. As Nicholas Culpeper said in A Complete Herbal (1653) "Cabbages are extremely windy, whether you take them as meat or as medicine, as windy meat as can be eaten, unless you eat bag-pipes or bellows."

• Remember "freedom fries"? That wasn't the first time the name of one of our foods has been attempted to be changed because of political fervor. During World War I, Americans renamed sauerkraut "liberty cabbage."

• No one knows exactly how the Cabbagetown neighborhood in Atlanta got its name, though stories include the idea that the original poor Scotch-Irish residents (workers at the nearby cotton mill) would grow cabbages in their front yards, and that the smell of cooked cabbage was a nuisance (and later a point of pride). Other apocryphal suggestions include a train derailing or a Model T car overturning and spilling cabbages everywhere for people to snatch up, shouting "Free Cabbages!"

• Georgia has another cabbage connection - Cabbage Patch Kids, which were originally called Little People. In the late 1970s, art student Xavier Roberts started creating "soft sculptures," which he later expanded on by giving them birth certificates and allowing "adoptions." In 1982 the name changed to Cabbage Patch. By the mid-80s, the dolls went on record as having the most successful and in-demand introduction of a toy ever.

• Though cabbages have often been thought of throughout history as a cheap food, that's certainly not true in Northern Canada, where a cabbage can cost $28. The northern Canadian territory of Nunavut is so remote that anything not a product of hunting and gathering must be flown in.

• By the way, that corned beef and cabbage you cook up for St. Patricks Day? Not actually Irish. Though corned beef was made in Ireland in the 17th and 18th centuries, most Irish families were too poor to eat it. Instead it went to British citizens as well as the British and U.S. military. These days, the Irish reportedly find the dish just plain boring.

• Cabbages can have a killer instinct - genetically modified cabbages can produce scorpion poison that kills caterpillars when they bite leaves. But don't worry, the toxin is modified so it isn’t harmful to humans. (I like that the title of the article is "Venomous Cabbage"!)

• Another way to get rid of pests in your cabbage? Er, human urine. According to a 2007 study, "Our results show that human urine could be used as a fertilizer for cabbage and does not pose any significant hygienic threats or leave any distinctive flavor in food products." Good to know?

• The largest cabbage on record was called "The Beast" and weighed 127 pounds. Reportedly it wasn't actually particularly tasty, so it ended up as compost rather than on anyone's plate.

• How do you like to eat your cabbages, Flossers? And have you found a way to counteract their less-desirable side-effects?

Hungry for more? Venture into the Dietribes archive.

‘Dietribes’ appears every other Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.

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